A temporary shelter reserved for women has opened in the Downtown Eastside.
The 26-bed shelter, which is funded by the provincial government and operated by the St. James Community Services Society, opened Monday at the society’s location at 329 Powell St. and is funded until the end of March. The low-barrier shelter will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provide meals and support services.
The province wants a permanent location for a shelter for women. It established the shelter at Powell Place, which has been vacant for a year awaiting renovations expected next fall. “It’s fantastic because we need a lot more housing [in the] Downtown Eastside for women and guys,” said Trish, who didn’t want her last name published, and has lived at St. James’s 52-bed temporary Umbrella Shelter at 625 Powell St. for two months.
“It’s a fantastic place,” said the 59-year-old, who said she was raised in dozens of foster homes. “A lot of the girls have problems, there’s mental problems, some are on methadone. They’re here to help you.”
St. James Community Services Society vacated Powell Place, which provided shelter to 26 women, last year in anticipation of renovations and leased the building three blocks away to establish the Umbrella Shelter. Once renovations are completed, the Umbrella Shelter will close and 52 beds will be offered at Powell Place. St. James Community Services Society hopes construction will begin next fall. The 50-year-old society also operates 32 emergency shelter beds for women and children and 10 longer-term transition apartments in Mount Pleasant.
The province recently gave the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre more than $230,000 to extend the hours of its shelter at the Life Skills Centre, where it provides 50 cots and additional mats, to women from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. on week days and 24 hours on weekends.
Atira Women’s Resource Society operates a 12-bed women-only shelter around the clock. A handful of permanent housing developments for women operate in the Downtown Eastside. Trish previously lived in Sereena’s House for Women, run by Atira, but she prefers the shelter. “Hookers and drug addicts live there,” she said of Sereena’s. “It’s not a safe place to live. They’re fighting and arguing, getting into scraps, arguing about dope outside your door at all hours of the night.”
Calculating demand for beds at women-only shelters is difficult, said Jonathan Oldman, executive director of St. James, but he says the Umbrella Shelter turns women away on a “regular basis.”
“I would be surprised if these 26 beds didn’t fill up pretty much the first day,” he said. “Dealing with women’s homelessness is particularly complicated because it’s not always really visible and women are sometimes not on the street, but they’re not in safe places or in safe situations.”
B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman said Nov. 28 that women’s advocates made a compelling case for the need for women-only shelters after a spike in reported sexual assaults in a co-ed shelter last year. He said the government won’t provide the city with money to keep four shelters Mayor Gregor Robertson wants to remain open this year. “On the last cold weekend we had, we were only at 50 per capacity in our existing shelter space,” Coleman said.